Book Review: Unteachable by Leah Raeder

unteachable

Favourite quotes:

“Part of falling in love with someone is actually falling in love with yourself. Realizing that you’re gorgeous, you’re fearless and unpredictable, you’re a firecracker spitting light, entrancing a hundred faces that stare up at you with starry eyes”.

“None of us actually grow up. We get bigger, and older, but part of us always retains that small rabbit heart, trembling furiously, secretively, with wonder and fear. There’s no irony in it. No semantics or subtext. Only red blood and green grass and silver stars”.

“That’s how you know someone loves you. When they want you to be happy even in the part of life they’ll never see”.

 

Maise O’Malley hasn’t had the easiest life – what with a drug-dealing mother and her countless pervy boyfriends. What she wants the most is to get out of the small Missourri town and go to a good film school. A hook-up with an older guy at a carnival, no matter how erotic, intense and emotion-filled, isn’t going to get in the way of that – Maise likes to leave them before they leave her. However, the older guy turns out to be none other than Maise’s film studies teacher, and an amazing one at that. Maise is eighteen, Evan is in his early thirties, but what they feel for each other is too intense to be avoided. He sees beyond the tough exterior she projects on the people around her, and he appreciates her wit, her courage, her strength of character and her vulnerability that she hides so well. He makes her feel emotions that go way beyond sexual attraction – although the passion is as sizzling as the fireworks that seem to feature throughout the book. Staying away from each other until Maise graduates doesn’t seem to be an option. However, secret make-out sessions and rendes-vous are on the verge of being discovered, and Maise’s and Evan’s burning bliss is about to be shattered. Will their romance have a “Casablanca” ending or will it be even more doomed?

 

I’m celebrating International Women’s Day this year by reviewing “Unteachable” – a novel with one of the most real, flawed and well-rounded heroines I’ve ever come across in New Adult novels. First things first – I’m drinking champagne right now and I should say that this book goes amazingly well with it – and it’s not just the sparks on this beautiful cover. Maise’s story (I am hesitant to call it Maise’s and Evan’s story for several reasons) is not your conventional student-teacher romance. She isn’t looking to be saved – initially, all she’s looking for is good sex, but later she can’t get enough of whatever is between her and Evan. She is a very self-aware character, having a pretty good idea that their romance is part forbidden and doomed, part addictive, part wonderful. She’s seen the effects of addiction first-hand growing up, and the last thing she wants is to be hooked on something, even if that something is amazing sex. I really appreciated the insight the author provided in Maise’s inner struggles with this and thoroughly enjoyed the vivid, imaginative writing throughout which this was conveyed.

In fact, the writing style was one of my favourite things about the book. True, it is riddled with f-bombs, but they fit strangely well within the overall intensely bright picture “Unteachable” presents to the reader. Colours, fireworks, lights, videoframes, and other devices of the kind were used in clever ways to further highlight Maise’s inner struggles and the intensity of her romance with Evan. I really loved how “Unteachable” is presented as a love story that has gone off-script – Maise references “Casablanca” (a classic I’ve yet to see, unfortunately) on several occasions, and wonders about the parallels in her story and Ingrid Bergman’s. Characters enjoy film art on many occasions throughout the novel, and the juxtaposition of movies against the ongoing storyline of Maise’s own life has worked really, really well.

The relationship is obviously the central point of the book, and it is a student-teacher relationship, which I normally have mixed feelings about – for example, I hated how it was handled in “Slammed”, and “Pretty Little Liars” has a myriad of issues attached to the relationship of the kind that occurs within the story. However, “Unteachable” approaches it bravely, unabashedly, and doesn’t shy away from the problematic aspects. Statutory rape isn’t an issue – Maise is 18 – but illegality and unequal positions of power are very much an issue. Evan’s past is an even bigger of an issue, and is the reason why I hated him by the end of the book and hoped for the “Casablanca” ending. However, the fact that the author didn’t just ignore the issues I mentioned, along with many others, but demonstrated the characters’ struggles with them, made this novel much more compelling than your average student-teacher romance. For that reason, my rating is 7.5/10.

 

Dreamcast

Maise O’Malley – Saiorse Ronan

Evan Wilke – Ian Harding (surprise surprise)

 

Recommendations

You might enjoy “Unteachable” if you liked:

“Slammed” by Colleen Hoover

“Last Will and Testament” by Dahlia Adler

“Easy” by Tammara Webber

“Pretty Little Liars”

Have you read “Unteachable”? What did you think? What are your favourite student-teacher romances? Let me know!

Book Review: All the Rage by Courtney Summers

rage

Recommended by Manda of bookmad.

Warning: discussion of sexual assault

Romy Grey is a high school student in a small town where everybody hates her family. So when she accuses Kellan Turner, the son of a local Sheriff of raping her on a night out, nobody believes her and she is shunned by her peers and everybody in town. Nobody believes the girl who “lied” about the town’s golden boy. The only place where she can be somewhat safe from being the town pariah is the diner at the edge of town where she works, where nobody knows about what happened to her and she doesn’t have to endure the daily humiliation. However, when she and her fellow classmate, Penny, go missing one night after being last seen at the diner, the only people who want Romy back are her mother and stepfather – the rest of town wishes that she had never been found and that the resources of the police department had gone to finding the other missing girl – the girlfriend of Kellan’s brother Alek.

Having a family that is hated by the entire community is exhausting, but recovering from one of the most heinous things that can be done to a person is something else entirely. Romy wears her armour – red lipstick and blood red nails – to keep herself from falling apart completely. At school, she is constantly dehumanized and humiliated by her classmates. The Sheriff and other adults who own the town despise her. Her mum and stepdad do their best to support her but they don’t understand what is happening.

 

“All the Rage” is my first Courtney Summers book, and it most certainly won’t be the last. At first glance, it features elements I don’t normally like – present tense and first-person narrative, time jumps and girl-on-girl hate. However, Summers manages to take all these things and make them into a very gritty, very realistic work of art that leaves you crying and fuming long after you finished the book. It’s not a happy, fluffy book – it is a very real portrait and a painful, anger-inducing reminder of how rape culture and sexism (more on that below) are still bleeding through our fragile society. Summers’ genius use of present tense and Romy Grey’s first person perspective doesn’t sugarcoat things and makes the reader sympathise with our heroine more while experiencing a very real need to rip Kellan Turner into very little pieces and beat the crap out of his father and brother and the rest of Romy’s tormentors. The use of imagery also adds fuel to the anger you experience – for instance, Romy’s armour of red lipstick and red nail polish. Firstly, allow me to say that I absolutely love make up and love reading about it, whether it’s used as a plot device in a romance novel or as something else entirely, like in “All the Rage”. The detailed description of Romy carefully applying her lipstick and nail varnish adds to the overall haunting tone of the novel in such a way that makes you praise Summers’ writing genius and crave more and more. The fact that Romy’s colour of choice is red only adds more fuel to the fire, so to speak. I love that the cover design features that barely-there touch of red on Romy’s face and hands. In fact, this is one of those covers that is PERFECT for its book.

“Anytime something bad happens to a woman close to me, it’s how I think. I have a daughter” – Romy’s coworker about a missing girl.

“I hope it’s not a girl” – Romy when her love interest’s sister gives birth.

“Sometimes I wish I didn’t have a body”. 

Above, I listed the three quotes that are, in my opinion, the most powerful ones in the book. “All the Rage” is set after Romy’s assault – it’s not a He Said, She Said story – that occurs off-page and before the story takes place. This is a story of a girl who is driven to an insane amount of self-loathing by the body shaming, victim blaming and other terrible things her classmate put her through. It pains me to say, but millions of girls go through what Romy went through every day. Millions of parents (well, good ones anyway) go through what Holly, Romy’s coworker goes through every time a girl is murdered, assaulted or missing. And Romy knows that too. Her self-loathing is so strong that she actually hopes that her boyfriend’s sister’s newborn baby isn’t a girl. No woman or man should ever endure victim blaming – sexual assault is NEVER, NEVER, NEVER the victim’s fault.

It doesn’t matter how much alcohol they had in their system.

It doesn’t matter what they were wearing.

It doesn’t matter how well they knew the perpetrator.

It doesn’t matter how “smart”, “handsome” or “popular” the rapist is.

THE BLAME FOR VIOLATION OF A HUMAN BODY IN SUCH A DISGUSTING WAY LIES ONE HUNDRED PER CENT WITH THE BASTARD WHO COMMITTED THE ACT, NOT THE VICTIM.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It’s 2015, shouldn’t everyone know this by now?

Yes. Yes they should. Yet millions of women and men are raped every day, and the majority of rapists get away with it. The media attitudes don’t help, either (kudos for Summers for not shying away from calling it out on this!) – “We’re so eager to point fingers at this boy – but how much of the blame truly falls on him? It’s sort of inevitable, isn’t it? What happened?”. 

I do wish that this quote was a one-off comment only occurring in fiction. But we hear thousands of such comments every year – from the media, the Internet, from the people we know, and even from the law enforcement. I used to live in a place where it was quite common for female rape victims to be told something like: “You’re a girl – you’re supposed to be f*cked” by law enforcement professionals. It makes me sick.

This is why books like “All the Rage” are so important. I consider myself to be a very cynical person with very few romantic notions about people but I’m not yet jaded enough to believe that things can’t change. I’m a writer – I know about the power fiction can have on people. When Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak” first came out, it had a tremendous impact. My edition contains dozens of quotes from letters Anderson received from victims of sexual assault, so if hundreds of teenagers were brave enough to speak up, maybe there is hope yet.

No rating this time – I merely urge all of you to read this book at your earliest convenience.

 

Favourite quotes

“Anytime something bad happens to a woman close to me, it’s how I think. I have a daughter.”

“It’s amazing how bad you can make the truth sound. As long as you keep it partially recognizable when you spit it out, a crowd will eat it up without even thinking about how hard you chewed on it first.”

“Poison. It’s traveling my veins, turning my blood into something too sick to name. It works its way through me, finds my heart and then – every vital part of me turns off.”

 

Dreamcast

Romy Grey – Ashley Rickards

 

Recommendations

Personally, I believe that everybody should read this book. The two books and the TV series below are also very good at exploring themes like sexual assault and rape culture:

“Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson

“Easy” by Tammara Webber (I know it’s a romance novel but it’s one of the few that deals with sexual assault properly)

Veronica Mars – and I don’t just mean the TV series. After I finished “All the Rage”, I wanted to binge on Veronica Mars for the upteenth time. I suggest that you watch the series, then the movie, then read the two books. The latest book deals with rapes of sex workers really well. 

Have you read “All the Rage” or any other Courtney Summers books? What are your favourite feminist contemporaries? Please let me know!